by Kent Strobel
A common question posed by visitors upon stepping aboard the Lois McClure is “How does she sail in the canal?” This is a great opening for a discussion about different modes of transport and how economics often drive the development of something. A few of the canal boats produced on Lake Champlain with the advent of the canal systems were made with sail rigging, due to the fact that steam tugs on the lake were not moving regularly enough for the canalers. These masts would then taken down at the canal entrances prior to entering the canals. Overhead canal clearances of course would not allow anything that high. Having sail rigging freed those canal boats to choose to move on their own rather than have to wait for a steamboat to get enough boats to tow.
Aboard the Lois McClure, we had just crossed Lake Ontario from Sackets Harbor to Cape Vincent, and on the morning of August 22, the heavy sail rigging was raised at the DEC Fisheries Research dock with the help of a crane from Evans Crane Service of Jordan, NY. That operation was performed much as it would have been done in the 19th century, though using diesel power instead of block and tackle. The masts are of Vermont white spruce and weigh about a half ton each.
After a full day of work, the canal boat had transformed into a sailing vessel. Just in time too, for the La Revenante (another schooner) and the St Lawrence II (a brigantine) joined us for the 1812 event over the weekend. While the Lois wasn’t able to set sail, the others put on a great show for us as they left the harbor on Sunday.
From Cape Vincent, the Lois heads to Clayton to open at the Antique Boat Museum, in all new territory for her.
A returning volunteer on the Lois, Kent is happy that the schooner has finally come to the Thousand Islands, where he spends his summers.